Imatges de pÓgina

I think there are a good many coarse people in both callings. A delicate nature will not commonly choose a pursuit which implies the habitual infliction of suffering, so readily as some gentler office. Yet, while I am writing this paragraph, there passes by my window, on his daily errand of duty, not seeing me, though I catch a glimpse of his manly features through the oval glass of his chaise, as he rides by, a surgeon of skill and standing, so friendly, so modest, so tender-hearted in all his ways, that, if he had not approved himself at once adroit and firm, one would have said he was of too kindly a mould to be the minister of pain, even if it were saving pain.

You may be sure that some men, even among those who have chosen the task of pruning their fellow-creatures, grow more and more thoughtful and truly compassionate in the midst of their cruel experience. They become less nervous, but more sympathetic. They have a truer sensibility for others' pain, the more they study pain and disease in the light of science. I have said this without claiming any special growth in humanity for myself, though I do hope I grow tenderer in my feelings as I grow older. At any rate, this was not a time in which professional habits could keep down certain instincts of older date than these.

This poor little man's appeal to my humanity against the supposed rapacity of Science, which he feared would have her "specimen," if his ghost should walk restlessly a thousand years, waiting for his bones to be laid in the dust, touched my heart. But I felt bound to speak cheerily.

We won't die yet awhile, if we can help it, I said, -and I trust we can help it. But don't be afraid; if I live longest, I will see that your restingplace is kept sacred till the dandelions and buttercups blow over you.

He seemed to have got his wits together by this time, and to have a vague consciousness that he might have been saying more than he meant for anybody's ears. I have been talking a little wild,

Sir, eh?-he said.-There is a great buzzing in my head with those drops of yours, and I doubt if my tongue has not been a little looser than I would have it, Sir. But I don't much want to live, Sir; that's the truth of the matter; and it does rather please me to think that fifty years from now nobody will know that the place where I lie doesn't hold as stout and straight a man as the best of 'em that stretch out as if they were proud of the room they take. You may get me well, if you can, Sir, if you think it worth while to try; but I tell you there has been no time for this many a year when the smell of fresh earth was not sweeter to me than all the flowers that grow out of it. There's no anodyne like your good clean gravel, Sir. But if you can keep me about awhile, and it amuses you to try, you may show your skill upon me, if you like. There is a pleasure or two that I love the daylight for, and I think the night is not far off, at best.-I believe I shall sleep now; you may leave me, and come, if you like, in the morning.

Before I passed out, I took one more glance round the apartment. The beautiful face of the portrait looked at me, as portraits often do, with a frightful kind of intelligence in its eyes. The drapery fluttered on the still outstretched arm of the tall object near the window;-a crack of this was open, no doubt, and some breath of wind stirred the hanging folds. In my excited state, I seemed to see something ominous in that arm pointing to the heavens. I thought of the figures in the Dance of Death at Basle, and that other on the panels of the covered Bridge at Lucerne; and it seemed to me that the grim mask who mingles with every crowd and glides over every threshold was pointing the sick man to his far home, and would soon stretch out his bony hand and lead him or drag him on the unmeasured journey towards it.

The fancy had possession of me, and I shivered again as when I first entered the chamber. The picture and the shrouded shape; I saw only these two objects. They were enough. The house was

deadly still, and the night-wind, blowing
through an open window, struck me as
from a field of ice, at the moment I pass-
ed into the creaking corridor. As I turn-
ed into the common passage, a white fig-
ure, holding a lamp, stood full before me.
I thought at first it was one of those im-
ages made to stand in niches and hold a
light in their hands. But the illusion was
momentary, and my eyes speedily recov-
ered from the shock of the bright flame
and snowy drapery to see that the fig-
It was Iris, in
ure was a breathing one.
one of her statue-trances. She had come
down, whether sleeping or waking, I
knew not at first, led by an instinct that
told her she was wanted,-or, possibly,
having overheard and interpreted the
sound of our movements,-or,
may be,
having learned from the servant that
there was trouble which might ask for
I sometimes think
a woman's hand.
women have a sixth sense, which tells
them that others, whom they cannot see
or hear, are in suffering. How surely we
find them at the bedside of the dying!
How strongly does Nature plead for them,
that we should draw our first breath in
their arms, as we sigh away our last upon
their faithful breasts!

With white, bare feet, her hair loosely
knotted, dressed as the starlight knew
her, and the morning when she rose from
slumber, save that she had twisted a scarf
round her long dress, she stood still as a
stone before me, holding in one hand a
lighted coil of wax-taper, and in the oth-
er a silver goblet. I held my own lamp
close to her, as if she had been a figure
of marble, and she did not stir. There
was no breach of propriety then, to scare
the Poor Relation with and breed scan-
dal out of. She had been "warned in a
dream," doubtless suggested by her wak-
ing knowledge and the sounds which had
There was
reached her exalted sense.
nothing more natural than that she should
have risen and girdled her waist, and
lighted her taper, and found the silver
goblet with "Ex dono pupillorum" on it,
from which she had taken her milk and
possets through all her childish years,

and so gone blindly out to find her place at the bedside,-a Sister of Charity without the cap and rosary; nay, unknowing whither her feet were leading her, and with wide, blank eyes seeing nothing but the vision that beckoned her along.Well, I must wake her from her slumber or trance. I called her name, but she did not heed my voice.

The Devil put it into my head that
I would kiss one handsome young girl
before I died, and now was my chance.
She never would know it, and I should
carry the remembrance of it with me
into the grave, and a rose perhaps grow
out of my dust, as out of Lord Lov-
el's, in memory of that immortal mo-
ment! Would it wake her from her
trance? and would she see me in the
flush of my stolen triumph, and hate and
Or should I
despise me ever after?
carry off my trophy undetected, and al-
ways from that time say to myself, when
I looked upon her in the glory of youth
and the splendor of beauty, "My lips
have touched those roses and made their
You think
sweetness mine forever"?

my cheek was flushed, perhaps, and my
eyes were glittering with this midnight
flash of opportunity. On the contrary, I
believe I was pale, very pale, and I know
that I trembled. Ah, it is the pale pas-
sions that are the fiercest,-it is the vio-
lence of the chill that gives the measure
of the fever! The fighting-boy of our
school always turned white when he went
out to a pitched battle with the bully of
some neighboring village; but we knew
what his bloodless cheeks meant,-
blood was all in his stout heart,- he was
a slight boy, and there was not enough
to redden his face and fill his heart both
at once.

Perhaps it is making a good deal of a slight matter, to tell the internal conflicts in the heart of a quiet person something more than juvenile and something less than senile, as to whether he should be guilty of an impropriety, and, if he were, whether he would get caught in his indiscretion. And yet the memory of the kiss that Margaret of Scotland gave to

Alain Chartier has lasted four hundred years, and put it into the head of many an ill-favored poet, whether Victoria or Eugénie would do as much by him, if she happened to pass him when he was asleep. And have we ever forgotten that the fresh cheek of the young John Milton tingled under the lips of some high-born Italian beauty, who, I believe, did not think to leave her card by the side of the slumbering youth, but has bequeathed the memory of her pretty deed to all coming time? The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a deal longer.

There is one disadvantage which the man of philosophical habits of mind suffers, as compared with the man of action. While he is taking an enlarged and rational view of the matter before him, he lets his chance slip through his fingers. Iris woke up, of her own accord, before I had made up my mind what I was going to do about it.

When I remember how charmingly she looked, I don't blame myself at all for being tempted; but if I had been fool enough to yield to the impulse, I should certainly have been ashamed to tell of it. She did not know what to make of it, finding herself there alone, in such guise, and me staring at her. She looked down at her white robe and bare feet, and colored, then at the goblet she held in her hand, then at the taper; and at last her thoughts seemed to clear up.

I know it all,—she said. He is going to die, and I must go and sit by him. Nobody will care for him as I shall, and I have nobody else to care for.

I assured her that nothing was needed for him that night but rest, and persuaded her that the excitement of her presence could only do harm. Let him sleep, and he would very probably awake better in the morning. There was nothing to be said, for I spoke with authority; and the young girl glided away with noiseless step and sought her own chamber.

The tremor passed away from my limbs, and the blood began to burn in

my cheeks. The beautiful image which had so bewitched me faded gradually from my imagination, and I returned to the still perplexing mysteries of my little neighbor's chamber. All was still there now. No plaintive sounds, no monotonous murmurs, no shutting of windows and doors at strange hours, as if something or somebody were coming in or going out, or there was something to be hidden in those dark mahogany presses. Is there an inner apartment that I have not seen? The way in which the house is built might admit of it. As I thought it over, I at once imagined a Bluebeard's chamber. Suppose, for instance, that the narrow bookshelves to the right are really only a masked door, such as we remember leading to the private study of one of our most distinguished townsmen, who loved to steal away from his stately library to that little silent cell. If this were lighted from above, a person or persons might pass their days there without attracting attention from the household, and wander where they pleased at night,-to Copp's-Hill burial-ground, if they liked, I said to myself, laughing, and pulling the bed-clothes over my head. There is no logic in superstitious fancies any more than in dreams. A she-ghost wouldn't want an inner chamber to herself. A live woman, with a valuable soprano voice, wouldn't start off at night to sprain her ankles over the old graves of the North-End cemetery.

It is all very easy for you, middle-aged reader, sitting over this page in the broad daylight, to call me by all manner of asinine and anserine unchristian names, because I had these fancies running through my head. I don't care much for your abuse. The question is not, what it is reasonable for a man to think about, but what he actually does think about, in the dark, and when he is alone, and his whole body seems but one great nerve of hearing, and he sees the phosphorescent flashes of his own eyeballs as they turn suddenly in the direction of the last strange noise,—what he actually does think about, as he lies and recalls all the wild stories

his head is full of, his fancy hinting the most alarming conjectures to account for the simplest facts about him, his commonsense laughing them to scorn the next minute, but his mind still returning to them, under one shape or another, until he gets very nervous and foolish, and remembers how pleasant it used to be to have his mother come and tuck him up and go and sit within call, so that she could hear him at any minute, if he got very much scared and wanted her. Old babies that we are!

Daylight will clear up all that lamplight has left doubtful. I longed for the morning to come, for I was more curious than ever. So, between my fancies and anticipations, I had but a poor night of it, and came down tired to the breakfasttable. My visit was not to be made until after this morning hour;-there was nothing urgent, so the servant was ordered to tell me.

It was the first breakfast at which the high chair at the side of Iris had been unoccupied. You might jest as well take away that chair, said our landlady, he'll never want it again. He acts like a man that's struck with death, 'n' I don't believe he'll ever come out of his chamber till he's laid out and brought down a corpse. These good women do put things so plainly! There were two or three words in her short remark that always sober people, and suggest silence or brief moral reflections.

Life is dreadful uncerting, said the Poor Relation,-and pulled in her social tentacles to concentrate her thoughts on this fact of human history.

If there was anything a fellah could do, said the young man John, so called, a fellah 'd like the chance o' helpin' a little cripple like that. He looks as if he couldn't turn over any handier than a turtle that's laid on his back; and I guess there a'n't many people that know how to lift better than I do. Ask him if he don't want any watchers. I don't mind settin' up any more 'n' a cat-owl. I was up all night twice last month.

[My private opinion is, that there was no small amount of punch absorbed on those two occasions, which I think I heard of at the time;-but the offer is a kind one, and it isn't fair to question how he would like sitting up without the punch and the company and the songs and smoking. He means what he says, and it would be a more considerable achievement for him to sit quietly all night by a sick man than for a good many other people. I tell you this odd thing: there are a good many persons, who, through the habit of making other folks uncomfortable, by finding fault with all their cheerful enjoyments, at last get up a kind of hostility to comfort in general, even in their own persons. The correlative to loving our neighbors as ourselves is hating ourselves as we hate our neighbors. Look at old misers; first they starve their dependants, and then themselves. So I think it more for a lively young fellow to be ready to play nurse than for one of those useful but forlorn martyrs who have taken a spite against themselves and love to gratify it by fasting and watching.]

The time came at last for me to make my visit. I found Iris sitting by the Little Gentleman's pillow. To my disappointment, the room was darkened. He did not like the light, and would have the shutters kept nearly closed. It was good enough for me;- what business had I to be indulging my curiosity, when I had nothing to do but to exercise such skill as I possessed for the benefit of my patient? There was not much to be said or done in such a case; but I spoke as encouragingly as I could, as I think we are always bound to do. He did not seem to pay any very anxious attention, but the poor girl listened as if her own life and more than her own life were depending on the words I uttered. She followed me out of the room, when I had got through my visit.

How long?-she said.

Uncertain. Any time; to-day,-next week,-next month,-I answered.-One of those cases where the issue is not doubtful, but may be sudden or slow.

The women of the house were kind, as women always are in trouble. But Iris pretended that nobody could spare the time as well as she, and kept her place, hour after hour, until the landlady insisted that she'd be killin' herself, if she begun at that rate, and haf to give up, if she didn't want to be clean beat out in less than a week.

At the table we were graver than common. The high chair was set back against the wall, and a gap left between that of the young girl and her nearest neighbor's on the right. But the next morning, to our great surprise, that good-looking young Marylander had very quietly moved his own chair to the vacant place. I thought he was creeping down that way, but I was not prepared for a leap spanning such a tremendous parenthesis of boarders as this change of position included. There was no denying that the youth and maiden were a handsome pair, as they sat side by side. But whatever the young girl may have thought of her new neighbor, she never seemed for a moment to forget the poor little friend who had been taken from her side. There are women, and even girls, with whom it is of no use to talk. One might as well reason with a bee as to the form of his cell, or with an oriole as to the construction of his swinging nest, as try to stir these creatures from their own way of doing their own work. It was not a question with Iris, whether she was entitled by any special relation or by the fitness of things to play the part of a nurse. She was a wilful creature that must have her way in this matter. And it so proved that it called for much patience and long endurance to carry through the duties, say rather the kind offices, the painful pleasures, that she had chosen as her share in the household where accident had thrown her. She had that genius of ministration which is the special province of certain women, marked even among their helpful sisters by a soft, low voice, a quiet footfall, a light hand, a cheering smile, and a ready self-surrender to the objects of their care, which such tri

fles as their own food, sleep, or habits of any kind never presume to interfere with.

Day after day, and too often through the long watches of the night, she kept her place by the pillow.-That girl will kill herself over me, Sir, said the poor Little Gentleman to me, one day, she will kill herself, Sir, if you don't call in all the resources of your art to get me off as soon as may be. I shall wear her out, Sir, with sitting in this close chamber and watching when she ought to be sleeping, if you leave me to the care of Nature without dosing me.

This was rather queer pleasantry, under the circumstances. But there are certain persons whose existence is so out of parallel with the larger laws in the midst of which it is moving, that life becomes to them as death and death as life. - How am I getting along? - he said, another morning. He lifted his shrivelled hand, with the death's-head ring on it, and looked at it with a sad sort of complacency. By this one movement, which I have seen repeatedly of late, I know that his thoughts have gone before to another condition, and that he is, as it were, looking back on the infirmities of the body as accidents of the past. For, when he was well, one might see him often looking at the handsome hand with the flaming jew el on one of its fingers. The single wellshaped limb was the source of that pleas ure which in some form or other Nature almost always grants to her least richly endowed children. Handsome hair, eyes, complexion, feature, form, hand, foot, pleasant voice, strength, grace, agility, intelligence, how few there are that have not just enough of one at least of these gifts to show them that the good Mother, busy with her millions of children, has not quite forgotten them! But now he was thinking of that other state, where, free from all mortal impediments, the memory of his sorrowful burden should be only as that of the case he has shed to the insect whose "deep-damasked wings" beat off the golden dust of the lily-anthers, as he flutters in the ecstasy

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